I hope you've gotten all your stockings hung by the chimney with care, because that holiday that brings that jolly old elf is right around the corner. Santa was nice to me a little early this year, he gifted me with the two wonderful interviews I'm about to share with you tonight!
But before I get to what Santa left for me to share, I need to do a little housekeeping - the Women of Internet Marketing Series will be on a two week hiatus. Due to the holiday and some family issues I must attend to, we'll be taking a break, but will return in full force Wednesday January 9th, 2008 for our first interview of the new year.
For edition 31 I bring you two women from two entirely different spectrums of the online universe. One woman I've come to greatly admire and respect, not just for our love of a TV Hero who wields "Mr. Pointy" (hey now, get your mind out of the gutter!), but for her pure love of this industry. Our other great lady immediately impressed me when I sat in on her presentation at Philadelphia's Podcamp, she's a whiz at podcasting in her spare time and a usability professional for her day job. Tonight, let me introduce you to Vanessa Fox and Jen Yuan.
Vanessa Fox made her entrance into the search marketing industry as the "face" of Google's Webmaster Central team a few years back. I remember it quite clearly, thinking "Wow! A woman engineer at Google! And she'll talk to us!" Vanessa started popping onto everyone's radar, it was amazing.
I remembered one day listening to Good ROI on Webmaster Radio and Greg (aka - Charlie, Brad, Fred, Fabio, G-Fed) Niland was out and Vanessa was filling in for him with Danny Sullivan as her guest. These two compared Buffy the Vampire Slayer to SEO - anyone who knows me outside of the conferences knows I'm a rabid BtVS fan (heck I have a Spike puppet!) - this just cemented my desire to interview Vanessa for this series, because anyone that can compare SEO to Buffy, just rocks in my book!
Vanessa started in technology back in 1993 and building websites in 1995, first working for AOL (but not in search). Eventually, she landed at Google, and for us the rest is history. A good one I might add! Right now when I asked her for her specialty she replied, "Hobo life. Technology. Search. Strategy. Designing products. Writing. Writing. Writing." Writing as you know, on both her own blog and as an editor for SearchEngineLand. So now, lets get into all those juicy details that I know you are curious about as I am.
Q: How did you land in this industry?
A: A brilliant stroke of luck! Actually, I went to work for Google in 2005. I had been at AOL, but I didn't do search there. I worked on T9 predictive text messaging in their mobile division and I saw the Google jobs on craigslist back when the Kirkland office first opened. When I got there, I was in internal engineering and didn't think I'd work on search, but I was really drawn to it and thought it would be really fun. Then I started working on the Sitemaps project and with Matt Cutts. I remember he was trying to explain the forums and posting names and the conferences and expecting me to think it was all a bit odd, but I've been involved with online forums for years and years so it all seemed perfectly normal to me. So, I jumped right in and never looked back.
Q: What do you consider to be your most successful accomplishment to date?
A: I really think Webmaster Central has been a great step for the industry. It's certainly not my accomplishment alone. A lot of great people have worked really hard to get that out there. It's not the specific features -- although a lot of those have been pretty cool. It's the idea of creating relationships with webmasters and understanding that search engines and webmasters create the search index together -- that the relationship is complementary and not antagonistic. And I think that it's done a lot for the overall relationships between search engines and webmasters, not just Google and webmasters. When I was at Searchification day and Microsoft was talking about their release of a webmaster center, I seriously almost had to leave the room because I thought I might cry. I just thought it was so great that I had the opportunity to be involved in such a positive shift in the industry.
Q: Why do you love most about working this industry?
A: The porn. Ha. Actually, I love a lot about it. It's always changing; there's always more to learn. The people are fantastic. It's not a sterile industry -- community and sharing is a big part of it. Search is just a fascinating subject and still in the early days. And the industry really fits in well with my geeky core.
Q: Can you give us a brief description of what you are doing now in your new position?
A: I'm doing lots of things right now, which I'm really loving. I'm working as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Ignition Partners, which is a VC firm in Seattle. I'm working with them on looking at the overall online landscape, talking to local startups, figuring out where things are going and what the market is really looking for. Hopefully within the next few months I'll have more details on specific projects I'm working on, but I just got there, so give me some time. :)
Q: What's been the most challenging aspect of your new position?
A: It's been a lot of fun so far. It's challenging mostly in that I'm looking at projects that are so big and have so much potential, so the important thing is focus.
Q: What's a typical day like for you, since you are also an editor at Search Engine Land?
A: I don't think I've had a typical day yet! I normally check in on what's going on in search in the mornings. Barry is amazing at news coverage. I don't think people realize just how hard he works at making sure he knows absolutely everything that goes on all over the web. When I have time, I pitch in on news coverage. I also write some longer, more feature/analytical articles. I've started working with Chris Sherman on organizing columns and authors. If you'd like to write a feature article for Search Engine Land, email me! Since I'm also working at Ignition and doing a few other things, I love the flexibility of writing when I have pockets of time. It can be crazy. Last week, I had a briefing with Jason Calacanis at 11pm. He was in Paris so it was 8am for him and he was about to speak at a conference to launch the new social features of Mahalo. It worked out great with my schedule, although I did figure it was best to pass on drinks earlier in the evening. Lately, I've also been working a bit on SMX West, since I'm organizing several of the sessions there.
Q: Why do you think Search Folks get such a bad rep?
A: It's odd in a way, because in large part, search is the evolution of marketing. And marketing doesn't tend to have the same negative connotations. I think a lot of people don't really understand what search marketers do. The internet overall is still somewhat of a black box to those not in the industry, so search marketing is only more so. I found it interesting that Nathan Buggia of Microsoft recently equated paid links with paid product placement in movies, because I think that's the right way of looking at it. Search marketing is just like any other form of marketing -- both the positive and negative aspects.
Q: OK, you know this was coming, what was it like working at Google, and what do you miss the most?
A: It was great working at Google -- crazy but great. Probably the best thing about working at Google is that if you have a great idea, you can implement it. You have the freedom to talk to anyone you need to get things done and once you create something, as long as it's good, you can launch it. Probably what I miss most is working with my team. They are really a fantastic group of people and passionate about creating a quality product. Fortunately, I'm able to keep in touch with many of them.
Q: Is there some change in this industry that has happened that you didn't expect?
A: I don't think you can become complacent in this industry or get comfortable enough that you always know what to expect. That's one of the fun things about it. It's always changing in ways you can't predict. I didn't expect that that many people would still be interested in what I had to say once I left Google. I figured my Feedburner numbers would plummet. But fortunately, people still let me hang around, which is great, because I love writing.
Q: What advice would you give to a woman starting out in this industry?
A: Probably the same advice I would give a man -- get to know the space, network a lot, because you can learn the most about this industry from others. I find that women are fairly represented in this industry, particularly compared to other technology-centric industries, such as software engineering.
Q: Who's your favorite blogger to read?
A: I voraciously consume information. Before the web, I subscribed to newspapers and news magazines and read them all the time. I have hundreds of blogs in my RSS reader and it would be impossible for me to pick just one favorite! My absolute favorite is not SEO or technology related. It's called apropos of nothing, but sasha never updates. I keep watching it though, just in case. As for search blogs, I read all the usual suspects, and I've been finding a lot of new stuff lately from places like Sphinn, Twitter, and even trackbacks to my blog.
Q: What kind of effect do you think social media has had on the search marketing industry?
A: It's one of those game changing interruptions in the industry that you couldn't really have predicted. On the one hand, it's great because if you create good content, you have even more opportunities to be seen and to get traffic and links. On the other hand, it can distract search marketers from creating great content and can get them focusing solely on being seen and getting traffic and links. But you need the first before you should concentrate on the second.
Q: TWitter, IM's or Blogging?
A: Yes. :) Actually, I don't IM all that much because I'm easily distracted and have a really short attention span. So, it's easy for me to completely forget what I'm working on and go off in some completely different direction. Twitter, as you might imagine, fits in really well with that. I'm using Facebook a bit more also. It's a pretty handy way to see what people are doing and the interesting stuff that's out there that I might have missed.
Q: What's your opinion of the whole "Link Buying" issues?
A: Hahaha. Next question? Actually, I think it's an important issue. I totally get where the search engines are coming from. A page should be at the top of the search results because it's actually the most useful and relevant content for the search, not because the site owner could spend the most on links. On the other hand, search engines are gamed all the time in lots of ways and they have to change and adapt to ensure their algorithms produce the best results based on the current online landscape. So, they need to find ways to take into account paid links just like they had to figure out how to deal with meta keyword stuffing and hidden text. It's definitely a hard problem, but hard problems keep life interesting.
Now for some fun and I know you are all waiting to see what silliness Vanessa and I can come up with!
Q: What's the most bizarre question you've been asked when you were at Google?
A: I actually didn't get a ton of bizarre questions, although it was always a bit amusing when someone would both admit to various spamming tactics and earnestly ask how to get a penalty removed. You would think, well, you could stop all that spamming. But what they were really asking is how much could they keep spamming and still get back into the index. And they thought a search engine rep was the best person to ask. Heh. Mostly I got really good questions from people who honestly had no idea what was wrong or how to improve. And as I mentioned at the site review panel I did at Pubcon a few weeks ago, a lot of it really boils down to the basics: keyword research, good content to back that up, title tags, headings, links.
Q: EvilGreenMonkey, Mikkel, or Dave "Fookin'" Naylor?
A: Each is special in his own way. :) I do, of course, have a soft spot in my heart for Dave, as anyone reading my blog soon discovers. And he has a soft spot for my cat.
Q: You are in charge of recasting *drum rolls*... BUFFY! *going to go with Season 3 here*, which SEO's do you cast as the following?
- Buffy: This is a tough one. I have no idea. I would totally go with Matt Cutts if Buffy were a boy... or if Matt was a girl.
- Willow: I know she's not an SEO, but I think Geraldine (Mystery Guest) makes a great Willow. She's super sweet and cute as a button. A cute button! Not one of those ugly square buttons. Definitely a round one. I've been doing Buffy night at my house every week and we're about the middle of season two now. Geraldine hadn't seen Buffy before but I think she's warming up to it.
- Xander: I think Barry's a bit like Xander. As I mentioned earlier, I don't think people realize just how much he does, but his contributions add a lot. Sort of like Xander in "The Zeppo" when he managed to save the school from a bomb created by the zombie football player, Walker, Texas Ranger fans and no one ever knew.
- Angel: Hmm.. For Angel, we need someone who was evil and then went corporate. I mean good. For some reason Todd Friesen comes to mind.
- Faith: Who else but Rae. She's not only the biggest Faith fan I know, but she kicks ass.
- Spike: I think I'll have to go with Nathan Buggia on this one. I'm not saying Microsoft is evil, exactly, but he was a bit erm, competitive? in that SEOMoz interview (http://www.seomoz.org/blog/whiteboard-friday-hey-new-guy), so he's a little suspicious. I say we keep an eye on him.
- Giles: Gotta go with Danny Sullivan on this one, if only for the singing. We should give him a guitar and put him in a coffee shop. Of course, the guitar might sound like an angry cat, so maybe it's best if he sticks to a capella.
Wow Vanessa, I tell ya, this was probably the most fun yet I've had with an interview! Thank you so much for sharing where you've been and where you're going with the Search Marketing Gurus audience!
Now onto another great woman you should all get to meet, Jen Yuan!
By day Jen is an IT Communications Analyst with a local university here in the Philadelphia area, focusing on web usability and user interface issues. By "night", she's a podcasting whiz, and owner of the really interesting blog called "1000 Times No." and an accompanying podcast called "InTheNo".
I met Jen at the Philadelphia Podcamp that took place back in September, where she presented on Podcasting 101. I thought I knew a bunch about podcasting already, but Jen definitely showed me a few more things I didn't know. That's when I knew all of you really needed to meet this amazing gal.
Both Jen's blog & podcast is great - I highly recommend it! So now that I have you all curious about her, let me introduce you to Jen Yuan!
Q: What brought you into the world of blogging & podcasting?
A: I was reading many blogs and listening to several podcasts on a regular basis a few years ago. When I went through a romantic breakup and suddenly found myself with a great deal more free time on my hands, it seemed like a good idea to make some Web 2.0 lemonade.
Q: Most successful accomplishment with you blog & podcast so far?
A: I'm surprised and pleased to discover just how much of a "long tail" my programming seems to possess. Lots of listeners continue to pore through my back catalogue, and pass it along to others.
I also enjoyed giving presentations at Podcamp Philly and Podcamp Boston 2.0. It's engaging to get instant feedback from a live audience, which is a very different experience from spending hours intently hunched over an audio rig.
Q: What do you love most about this industry?
A: I think it's great that there's such a low barrier to entry, financially and technologically speaking. People can focus on the topics and ideas that really move them, and there's really nothing that's too obscure or specialized. If you love something, chances are there are other people who love it too, and want to hear more about it.
Q: Can you give us a brief description of what exactly you blog & podcasts are about??
A: My blog is called "A Thousand Times No," and I keep a running catalog of rejections and setbacks that I encounter in my everyday life, along with other general observational material. In the accompanying podcast, "InTheNo," I talk to people about how their personal stories evolve and change after they experience a big "No" in their lives -- sometimes "No" is just the beginning.
Q: What kind of preparation goes into preparing for your podcasts?
A: When I first considered launching a podcast, I found a lot of the technical and legal issues surrounding the music format very daunting. I thought that conducting interviews would be a much more spontaneous format, and that a great deal of content would generate itself during the course of the conversation. Boy, was I naive! First, I've learned that the logistics of setting up live audio interviews are considerable. Also, I tend to put in a great deal of research before the audio recorder ever goes on: reading my guests' books, listening to their music, experiencing their art, brushing up on their biographies. If they've already been interviewed on radio or podcasts, I try to listen to those other interviews as well so that I can pursue a different line of questioning and bring something new to listeners. Compared with the prep time, the actual interviews themselves seem to fly by in a flash.
Q: Is there some change in this industry that has taken you totally by surprise?
A: The speed with which prices have dropped and the feature sets have climbed on "prosumer" audio recording equipment just astonishes me. It shouldn't, because I remember when it happened with personal computers, and then with consumer electronics like PDAs and cell phones. But advances in those product categories leveled out some years ago, while we're still watching really rapid gains being made in affordable audio.
Q: What advice would you give to a woman starting out in this industry, in particularly podcasting?
A: I'd say the same thing Peter Lynch has been saying to investors for years -- go with what you know. If there's something you really care about, sample all the podcasts you can about the topic. It's a really enjoyable process, and will also help you a great deal towards developing your own unique style. It's hard to develop an audience for a knockoff or an imitation of an existing show, but if you have a clear idea of the extra ingredient that you bring to the mix, the "something new" that only you possess, that's what will bring listeners to your show.
When you find an independent podcast that you like, listen to the oldest available archived episode of that podcast. It's informative and inspiring to hear the difference between Episode One and the latest offering from an established podcaster. You'll hear all kinds of flubs and weird audio artifacts in the beginning, and that's the point. Everybody has to start somewhere, and learning as you go is an important part of what podcasting is about.
Also, if you're not a big fan of reading manuals and wading through technical documentation, you're not alone. There are many good podcasts about podcasting itself. Attending live events like Podcamps or seminars can be a great way to get answers to your questions, and to learn new techniques through live demonstrations or hands-on workshops. Bloggers and podcasters are often really generous with sharing information and helping beginners to get started.
Q: Who's your favorite blogger to read?
A: Thank goodness for RSS and aggregators! I read a lot of personal blogs from women: Dooce, Fussy, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, To Whom It May Concern, Mama Nirvana, Chookooloonks, Callalillie, Dirty Catholic. That's something very different from what I can find in mainstream media (MSM), and as a reader you develop a relationship with a blogger over time, much like the way a friendship grows as you get to know more about a person.
Q: Who's your favorite podcaster?
A: Like so many listeners, I'm a big fan of Brian Ibbott of Coverville (and several other shows). He's one of podcasting's big success stories, someone who was actually able to quit his day job to become a full-time podcaster. He's also consistently given exposure to independent musicians and fellow podcasters, which is part of what makes Web 2.0 go round.
Q: What kind of effect do you think social media has had on podcasting & blogging?
A: It's definitely helped bloggers along. For podcasters, if you want to take advantage of social media, it helps to set up some sort of web presence for your show and to use an inline player -- in plain English, people need to be able to listen to, and download, your episodes from a web browser like Firefox or Internet Explorer -- and quickly share the web URL if they like it.
Now it's Jen's turn for some fun!
Q: What's the craziest thing that's happened to you during a podcast?
A: I interviewed singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton shortly before he went onstage to perform a concert. The quietest spot we could find was the basement of the coffeehouse where he was performing. The show that night was standing room only, and throughout the interview, you hear the coffeehouse staff tromping up and down the stairs in search of more folding chairs. I kept ad-libbing around the background interruptions, including one person proclaiming, "I got food poisoning!" The whole thing turned out great in a completely unexpected way.
Q: Who's got the "sexiest" podcast voice?
A: Barack Obama used to do a podcast. It's been on hiatus since he formally declared his presidential candidacy, but it ran for over a year, and I found that I enjoyed the cadence of his conversational voice. It's much more satisfying than listening to sound bites, and I learned a great deal about how he approaches public policy.
Q: If you could have anyone do a voice intro to your podcast, who would it be and why?
A: Every episode is a wish come true, in that sense: the first speaking voice that you hear is a quote from my guest. That's part of why I only conduct interviews face-to-face, rather than on the phone. People are tuning in, first and foremost, to hear my guests, so I want the sound to have the immediacy you get from direct live recording. It's also gives me the chance to meet my guests, which has been amazing, since they've all done remarkable work and have interesting stories to tell.
Jen, I have to agree with you on Barack's voice, the guy can entrance me listening to him! Thank you for sharing you insights and a little about yourself with the Search Marketing Gurus audience, it was fun getting to "No" more about you. :)
So that's a wrap on tonight's interview, and puts a nice touch on the year end for the Women of Internet Marketing Series for 2007. It's been a GREAT year, thanks to all of you! Thanks to everyone who has put in suggestions for interviewees (I have your emails and will be contacting those women for 2008), and to all the women who've participated.
Make sure you check back on January 9th, when we start off the new year with two more exciting women from the online marketing industry, but until them keep reading our past interviews in the Women of Internet Marketing series.